OS deathmatch: Snow Leopard vs. Windows 7

The newest operating systems from Apple and Microsoft go head to head.

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The Windows 7 taskbar has something else that Snow Leopard doesn't: Jump Lists. When you right-click an application's icon in the taskbar in Windows 7, you get a menu offering various actions and tasks associated with that application. The list varies according to the application -- so when you right-click Microsoft Word, for example, you see a list of recently opened files, but when you click Internet Explorer, you see a list of your most frequently visited sites.

Of course, both OSes have other ways to switch from one task to another: Snow Leopard has Exposé, while Windows 7 uses the Alt-Tab key combination. Here it's more of a toss-up over which is superior.

Exposé has nifty features such as letting you move your pointer to a corner of the desktop to perform a task like putting the display to sleep, displaying all open windows, etc. And the Spaces feature lets you create multiple virtual desktops, each with its own look and application organization.

Alt-Tab, though, has one thing that Exposé doesn't: When you cycle through all your open windows, the background of the desktop shows that window, so you can more easily decide which program you want to switch to.

The Winner: Windows 7. The taskbar has more features such as Jump Lists and has more fully featured thumbnails. The Dock may be more elegant-looking, but in this case function is more important than form.

System configuration

If you're like most people, you're not satisfied with the out-of-box experience offered by your operating system. You want to customize it and tweak it.

For doing this, it's hard to beat the straight-ahead simplicity and organization of Snow Leopard's System Preferences. It sports five categories: Personal, Hardware, Internet & Wireless, System, and Other. In each category you'll find a group of icons, such as Appearance, Desktop & Screen Saver, and so on. Click an icon, and you'll be presented with a straightforward menu for changing the way that feature works. It's as simple as customization gets.

Windows 7's Control Panel is far more complex. It has seven major categories and many subcategories, using a very confusing hierarchy. It has numerous applets for configuring Windows, but unlike System Preference, there is not a common interface among them all -- the interface of each applet is different, and so it takes quite a time to learn each. The learning curve is steep.

But there's also a big upside to that complexity: As a general rule, Windows is more configurable than Snow Leopard, with more options. And some of the applets are extremely useful and superior to what is available in Snow Leopard.

Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard's System Preferences puts all settings within easy reach.

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Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard

Windows 7's Control Panel may be harder to use, but it also gives you more options.

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A good example of the contrasting approaches is Snow Leopard's Network System Preferences compared to the Windows 7's Network and Internet category in its Control Panel. In Snow Leopard, it's exceedingly easy to get at important network information such as TCP/IP and DNS configuration. In Windows 7, to get that information you have to dig deep through numerous applets and menus, and once you do it, it's not easy to remember how to do it again.

However, in Windows 7, you get more networking options and features, such as an excellent network map that visually displays all the devices on your network and lets you get information about them.

So while it's true that Microsoft could have done a better job for system configuration than the Control Panel, it has also tried to stuff many more features into it. Partly, the complex design goes with the complex territory.

The Winner: Windows 7. Many people might consider this a toss-up, but this choice reflects my predilection for tweaking and customizing. Those who want simplicity will appreciate Snow Leopard's System Preferences' easy and accessible way to configure the operating system. Tweakers who like as many choices as possible, no matter how confusing and inelegantly presented, will prefer Windows 7's Control Panel.

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